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Cancun snorkel excursion ends in tragedy for teens

alphakitty

Deckhand
By John Austin
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

A post-graduation trip that promised fun in the sun turned into disaster Saturday for a group of 2008 South Grand Prairie High School graduates when their boat foundered in the waters off Cancun, leaving one of them gravely injured.

Parents of some of the teens estimated the number of Grand Prairie students at six to eight. The tourist boat with about 120 aboard partially sank, stern down, under clear skies about 1 p.m. local time and was towed ashore. It was on a snorkeling cruise with no destination, a representative of the companythat arranged the trip said Monday.

Quintana Roo state police Chief Luis Felipe Ortiz said Lisa Tam Chung, one of the graduates, suffered heart and lung failure after nearly drowning when the catamaran she was on sank between Cancun and Isla Mujeres. Ortiz said she has been declared brain dead and was being kept alive Monday by a respirator, the Associated Press reported.

Fernando Contreras, an emergency staff member of Hospital Galenia in Cancun, told the Star-Telegram on Monday in a telephone interview that Chung had been admitted but would not release her condition.

John Cosme, 18, a member of the South Grand Prairie party, was on the upper deck of the two-level boat. Cosme said in a telephone interview from Mexico on Monday that crew members did not wait for passengers to get into life jackets before beginning to leave the vessel themselves.

Jay Wiggs said his son, Carson, 18, of Grand Prairie, told him that the crew left passengers -- perhaps 100 -- to fend for themselves.

"The crew basically said, 'Here's the life vest,' " Jay Wiggs said his son told him. "Next thing you know, the crew just took off."

Other South Grand Prairie graduates on the boat included Loren Dailey and Kyle Felts.

Police say they are investigating whether the boat was overloaded, the Associated Press reported.

Ricardo Portugal Zubiata, a spokesman for the Red Cross in Cancun, said his agency treated people for injuries after they made land.

Workers treated five people for panic attacks, two who had fractured bones and Chung. Zubiata added that he wasn't aware of Chung's current condition.

Danh Thikim Chung, who was in Cancun, said her 18-year-old daughter was on summer break, and was going on a snorkeling trip on the boat named Sea Star, according to the Associated Press.

Wiggs said his son, Carson, thought the boat hit something. He said Carson told him, "It started taking on water and started sinking."

Cosme said that after Chung went into the water, a rescue boat ran over her. Rescuers administered CPR to Chung after pulling her aboard, Cosme told the Star-Telegram.

Another parent, Ollie Dailey, said his daughter went into the sea with Chung after the vessel began taking on water.

"Our daughter called us and informed us that she had been involved in an accident... . It wasn't a school-sponsored trip," Dailey said. "We just know that they were involved in a boating accident."

Dailey said, "We're getting very limited information. There's a serious nature to the accident.

"They had life jackets on but they had to jump into the water," Dailey said. "They were trapped underwater. There's a student they're waiting to transport her back to the United States."

Dailey said a trust fund may be established for Chung. Her high school annual lists Chung as a three-time class favorite, a National Honor Society member and yearbook staffer.

She planned to enroll in Baylor University's honors program in the fall with a major in psychology and a minor in political science, according to her Facebook page.

Word of Chung's condition spread quickly.

"Honey bun i am praying for you," wrote classmate Marhiah Castorena on Chung's Facebook page. Other people also left messages on the page.

Dailey declined to give his daughter's name but a Loren Erietta Dailey is listed as a 2008 cum laude South Grand Prairie graduate. Chung was also listed on the high school commencement announcement as a cum laude graduate.

Dailey said the group's trip was arranged through GradCity, headquartered in Peabody, Mass. The company's Web site advertises "... a graduation gift that you'll never forget."

GradCity has been in business since 1987 and books trips for about 50,000 annually, according to Jason Chute, operations director for the company.

Chute said the six-month-old, 75-foot boat had a capacity of 250 and was carrying about 120 when it went down.

The Sea Star is registered to a company named Aquatic Services of the Caribbean, Chute said. It carried a crew of five, plus a GradCity staff member. Chute countered the notion that the crew abandoned the passengers.

"The crew members who were reported leaving the boat went to get help," on shore, which was about 200 yards away, Chute said. "The response was very quick."

Pat Dailey has talked to her daughter several times since the accident.

"They told them to jump off the boat," she said. "She was one of the ones who was trapped.

"She said she felt like she had stopped breathing," Pat Dailey said. "She thought she had died. "She said the crew pretty much abandoned them. I can imagine the fear."

She said her daughter doesn't recall details of her rescue. "She just remembers that there was some guy in blue trunks," she said.

Staff writers Gary Hardee, Sally Claunch, and Constanza Morales contributed to this report.
 
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